The old Gaelic name used by the Sullivan family in Ireland was O Suileabhain, which is partially derived from the word suil, which means eye. The surname probably means either one-eyed or hawk-eyed. The Irish are famous for their poets, scholars, playwrights, authors, artists and statesmen, and evidence of the age of Irish culture is exemplified by the oldest standing building in the world, and the many pieces of fine jewelry predating biblical times.
Researchers have compiled this history of the name Sullivan using books by O'Hart, McLysaght and O'Brien and Woulfe, baptismals, parish records, and ancient land grants, and historians have concluded that the family name Sullivan was first found in county Tipperary.
Your name, Sullivan, occurred in many references, and from time to time, the surname was recorded as O'Sullivan, Sullivan, and these changes in spelling frequently occurred within this Irish sept. It was not uncommon for a person to be born with one spelling, married with another, and have yet another at his wake.
The ancient Kings of Ireland were descended from King Milesius of Spain, the grandson of Breoghan, (or Brian) King of Galicia, Andalusia, Murcia, Castile and Portugal. Milesius sent his uncle northward from Spain with his own son Lughaidh to explore the western Isles. This was to fulfill an ancient Druidic prophecy.
On finding that his son had been murdered by the three resident Irish Kings (the Danans) in Ireland, Milesius gathered an army to take his revenge on the Irish. He died before he embarked on the trip. His succeeding eight sons conquered Ireland.
The distinguished Irish name emerged in county Tipperary. This great southern Irish Clann were traditionally descended from Olioll Olum, King of Munster, and they were Lords of the territory of Cahir in county Tipperary until they were driven out by the Burkes after the Anglo/Norman invasion of Strongbow in 1172. They settled in counties Cork and Kerry. The name is derived from Suilleabhan a Chief who flourished in the year 950. They branched into several septs including the Sullivan Mor, the senior line, and Sullivan Beare, this latter branch settled at Bearra in county Cork. Sullivan Mor the Chief had his castle at Dunkerron on the shores of Kenmar Bay. After the Cromwellian invasion of the 17th century they lost considerably larger portions of their estate and many fled to France and Spain. This Clan has produced an unusually high number of international personalities including Barry Sullivan, Actor; Charles Sullivan and Maureen O'Sullivan, Actors; Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan; John L. Sullivan probably one of the greatest boxers of all time. Notable amongst the family name at this time was Colonel John O'Sullivan who led the Irish Brigade at Culloden in 1745.
During the 12th century, 1172 A.D., Dermott McMurrough, King of Leinster, requested King Henry II of England for assistance. This was the first intrusion into Ireland of the Anglo/Normans. Many native Irish families lost their lands and possessions. This invasion was followed by Cromwell's invasion in 1640, when further loss of land befell the unfortunate Irish people.
In 1845, the great potato famine caused widespread poverty. Many Irish joined the armada of sailing ships which sailed from Belfast, Dublin, Cork, Holyhead, Liverpool, and Glasgow, all bound for the New World. Some called these ships the White Sails, others, more realistically, called them the "Coffin Ships," when 25% of the passengers died of cholera, dysentery and small pox.
In North America, early immigrants bearing the Sullivan surname or one its spelling variations include Andrew, Arthur, Daniel, Denis, John, Michael, Patrick, Simon, Timothy and William O'Sullivan all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860; Anne, Bridget, Cornelius, Daniel, Denis, Ellen, James, Jeremiah, John, Julia, Mary, Owen, Patrick, Terence and William Sullivan all arrived in Boston in 1849; Cornelius, Daniel, Denis, Eugene, Florence, Honoria, James, Jeremiah, John, Martin, Michael, Owen, Peter, Thomas, Timothy and William Sullivan all arrived in Philadelphia between 1840 and 1860.
Some remained loyal to the Crown during the American War of Independence and moved north into Canada, becoming known as the United Empire Loyalists. Meanwhile, the family name Sullivan produced many prominent people. Maureen O'Sullivan (1911-) Irish actress; John Florence Sullivan American original name of Fred Allen; Jade Sullivan soap opera character; Ed Sullivan (1902-1974) American newspaper columnist and broadcaster; Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan (1842-1900) English composer; Edward Vincent Sullivan (1902-1974) American original name of Ed Sullivan; John Sullivan (1740-1795) American revolutionary soldier; John Lawrence Sullivan (1858-1918) American pugilist; Louis Henri Sullivan (1856-1924) American architect; Roy C. Sullivan (1942-1977) American ranger that's been struck seven times by lightning; Ed Sullivan (1902-1974) American host of TV variety show; Barry Sullivan (1912-) American actor; Susan Sullivan (1944-) American actress. The 1984 edition of the Report of Distribution of Surnames in the Social Security ranks the name O'Sullivan as 3,217th most popular surnames in the United States.The same Report lists the name Sullivan as 85th most popular surname in the United States.For further reading, try "Wild Bill Sullivan, King of the Hollow" by Ann Hammons, "Adam's Ancestors" by Thomas Nathan Clark.